More significantly,she reminded the Modi BJP government and other Indian guests that peace, stability and development require that “the whole country join this new enterprise of hope to pull the State out of the morass and resolutely address the challenges confronting it”. This hopeful tone reflects Mehbooba’s discomfort with the PDP-BJP alliance and her astute understanding of the ground realities in the State, particularly in the Kashmir Valley.
When, ultimately,Mehbooba broke her silence after the death of her father, it was to accuse the BJP of the “overt and covert” sabotage of her father’s leadership and to insist that as a necessary condition for the PDP to continue in the alliance, she needed the BJP’s assurance of tangible outcomes from the items negotiated in the AoA to create an enabling environment in the State. But despite the fact that those preconditions were never met and probably never given serious consideration by the BJP government, after a single one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Modi, Mehbooba agreed to form a government. Mehbooba had no choice. Her party had come to be divided between those who favoured a partnership government with the BJP and those wanted to abandon the unnatural alliance. Neither going for an election nor forming a coalition government with the National Conference (which still remains unpopular in the Valley for mishandling the 2010 protests and Afzal Guru hanging) were viable options.
Mehbooba’s main challenge remains how to protect her political constituency in the Valley while delivering on the governance front per the AoA. A quick reminder of the context of the PDP-BJP alliance of March 1, 2015 is essential here. The 2014 winter assembly election results produced a hung assembly, with a divided mandate along party lines and regional divisions—the BJP winning 25 out of 37 Jammu seats and the PDP winning 25 out of 46 seats in the Valley and 3 in the Jammu region. For the first time in the electoral history of the state, the BJP emerged as the dominant party in Jammu region but with no presence in the Valley. Indeed, it lost all contests in the Valley and lost deposits on all except one. On the other hand,the PDP, which won most of the seats in the Valley, did not actually receive a strong mandate and could not be perceived as the dominant party in the Valley. It faced competition from the other Valley-based mainstream party, the National Conference, which was successful in winning 12 seats and coming in a close second in a number of contests between the two Valley-based parties.
In order to form a coalition Government, Mufti Sayeed’s PDP and the BJP entered into a governance partnership, the so-called “Agenda of Alliance”. The Agenda, an effort towards seeking a national reconciliation on J&K, was predicated on the assumption that the successful performance of the coalition government in the area of good governance and inclusive economic development would, to some extent, mitigate the salience of identity-based politics in the region. In this agreement, the BJP shelved its position on the abrogation of Article 370 and the PDP equally stepped back from self-rule and related demands for autonomy. But Mufti ensured that the agenda would accommodate the PDP demands for soft borders (travel and trade between Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir) and opening up dialogue with all internal stakeholders (separatists) to build a broad-based consensus on the resolution of all outstanding issues of J&K. The State government was to be transformed into proactive, transparent and accountable government which would create an enabling environment for the all-around economic development of the state.
Mufti Sayeed had voiced the hope that this Agenda of Alliance, as a partnership with the BJP, could represent a paradigm shift in Kashmir’s political history and start a new era of peace and development in all three regions of the state. In the event, however, the BJP’s insistence upon placing its own hyper-nationalistic agenda above considerations of good governance effectively prevented the Mufti government from achieving anything of significance in that direction. Neither did the BJP deliver on vital governance issues, for example failing to provide timely aid for flood victims or revoking the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act, nor did they relent in the pursuit of their hyper-nationalist and Hindutva agenda. The hard-core nationalist rhetoric of national BJP leaders, like Amit Shah (threatening to pull out of coalition if national security were compromised), Home Minister Rajnath’s ultimatum on the release of Masrat Ali, leader of the 2010 Valley protests, and the raising of Pakistani flags (the government will not tolerate anti-national activity), and Defense Minister Parrikar’s statements (neutralise terrorists through terrorists only) have alienated Muslims in the Valley.
Jammu’s BJP and the RSS are encouraged by this type of pronouncement and have begun vigorously to pursue their Hindu agenda in the State. The Deputy Chief Minister, Nirmal Singh, refused to fly the State Flag on his official car, suggesting that he does not recognize the State constitution (both these are part of the special status guaranteed to the State under the Indian constitution). The state wing of the RSS launched “Mission Kashmir”, a new campaign whereby it created a core unit in the Valley.It was Jammu’s Hindu fundamentalists who were to put the beef ban on the legislative and judicial docket which heightened the tension even further. Indeed, ‘beef politics’ engulfed the state’s two regions, deepening communal and regional polarisation and solidifying vertical divisions. After two contradictory court decisions, protests and counter protests followed in the two regions, including a physical attack in the legislative assembly on an independent MLA, Rashid Engineer. More ominously, this was followed by a petrol bomb attack on trucks on the J &K highway, resulting in the death of a young Muslim man. The Kashmiri Valley’s secessionist/nationalists who had largely remained an insignificant force during the past few years have effectively been given a new life by both Jammu’s Hindu fundamentalists and the BJP’s hard-core challenges to the ‘soft nationalist agenda’ of the PDP. As a result, instead of reducing regional tensions and moving forward on the governance agenda, there is an increasing communal and regional polarisation,a re-emergence of assertive separatist politics in the Valley and assertion of a hard core Hinduvtva agenda in Jammu.
That, in a nutshell, is what Mehbooba has inherited. Will she be able to deliver on the promise of effective governance as underlined in the AoA while mitigating Valley’s collective identity demand for azadi and reining in the State BJP members responsible for communal disharmony in the State? The responsibility for Mehbooba’s success or failure lies largely with the BJP. During Mufti’s Sayeed’s regime, the BJP had remained short-sighted in failing to understand that Kashmiri ethno-nationalist aspirations remain alive and deeply entrenched among the Valley’s Muslim population and that the Valley’s population can be easily mobilised when the public perceive that the state is no longer acting in their economic interests or sufficiently protecting their distinct religious and political identity.
This lack of understanding has been accompanied by the BJP’s lack of experience in governing the State. It has failed to act as a partner in the governing alliance, pursuing instead a politics of opposition which has emboldened the Hindu fundamentalist in Jammu. Hindu mobilisation in the state can have serious consequences – not only threatening the breakdown of the government but also increasing the intractability of the Kashmir issue. On Mehbooba’s part, she needs to figure out how to put the separatist/nationalist genie back into the bottle and how to break the vicious reinforcing cycle of Hindu-nationalist and pro-integrationist demands in Jammu exacerbating Muslim alienation and encouraging separatist politics in the Valley which only seems to encourage the Hindu fundamentalist response.